Two groups of students in the Department of Advertising and Public Relations have been honored for their stellar work in the spring 2021 semester: honorable mention in the Bateman Public Relations Case Study competition and bronze for best diversity and inclusion campaign from the 2021 Bulldog PR Awards.
Six public relations students received honorable mention in the Bateman Public Relations Case Study Competition, a national Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) annual contest. Through this campaign, the students educated both current public relations professionals and the next generation of communication specialists on the potential role they could play in promoting civility in society.
The students on the Bateman team are: Olivia Muller (account executive), Meredith Pannek, Madison Palmieri, Hannah Payne, Rachel Weiss and Abbey Woodard.
The students worked together through the challenges of the pandemic to produce a campaign that attracted national honors.
23 students were part of Karen Russell’s capstone course from Fall 2020 that won bronze for best diversity and inclusion campaign in the 2021 Bulldog PR Awards.
The students produced videos, infographics, toolkits, a podcast and more to meet established goals of promoting greater understanding of diversity in public relations.
Karen Russell, a Jim Kennedy New Media Professor at Grady College, has written a new book, “Promoting Monopoly: AT&T and the Politics of Public Relations, 1876-1941.”
“Promoting Monopoly,” examines the publicity efforts of the competitive industry from the invention of the telephone in 1876 through its early years when Alexander Graham Bell’s patents expired and the fight to control the market became heated. The book examines what is described as “one of the earliest and most effective public relations programs of its time,” along with the discovery of AT&T’s first publicist and the first known corporate public relations practitioner in the U.S., William A. Hovey.
Following are some excerpts from an interview with her about the new book:
Grady College: Can you provide a brief summary of the “Promoting Monopoly”?
Karen Russell: “Promoting Monopoly” is a history of public relations at AT&T, showing how corporate publicity helped build the company and, at the same time, how the company helped to create the formal practice of U.S. corporate PR. It starts with the earliest publicity stunts by the inventors in 1876 and continues to World War II, by which time AT&T was well established as the telephone monopoly in the United States.
The thing I’m most excited about is that I identified a previously unknown publicist, William A. Hovey, who started doing publicity work for AT&T in 1886. That makes him the earliest known corporate practitioner in U.S. public relations history—I’m not saying he was the first, but the first we know about so far. His story is my favorite part of the book, because it means that corporations cared about and systematically tried to improve their reputations and communication earlier than anyone realized.
I also learned that James Ellsworth, who created the Information Department in 1910, played a far more significant role in the development of a sophisticated public relations and advertising program than scholars previously understood. For example, he was one of the earliest U.S. corporate practitioners to embrace film as a medium for conveying messages to the public, and he championed the development of a benefits program because he understood the PR implications of having satisfied employees.
GC: Why did the topic of a monopoly and the public relations surrounding it catch your interest?
KR: Some scholars have argued that corporate PR is inherently political by nature. A monograph about one company can’t prove that’s the case with all corporate PR, but it allowed me to analyze how public relations was deeply politically motivated in the case of the telephone industry.
AT&T is well known for Arthur Page, who was identified as one of the most important PR practitioners in American history. Some members of the Arthur Page Society approached me about the possibility of doing a book on the company to understand Page’s approach and influence better. The Society gave me a grant to do the original round of research, which included visits to the AT&T corporate archives, the Page Society archive, and the Mass Communication History Center at the Wisconsin Historical Society. I was fortunate to get a fellowship from the college to work on it for a semester to continue my research. This time allowed me to focus more on the company before Page started work there and put his contributions into the larger context of corporate history and culture. Finally, the contract through the AEJMC Peter Lang Scholarsourcing program published the project.
GC: What did you learn in your research from this era that is still applicable/relevant to public relations professionals today?
KR: Perhaps the most surprising thing I learned was how intertwined early corporate publicity and advertising were. We think of the convergence of advertising and public relations as a 21st century phenomenon driven by digital communication, but actually my research showed it’s a return to early corporate communication practice. James Ellsworth, who built the company’s Information Department after he started working at AT&T in 1908, supervised both the advertising and the publicity programs and saw them as all part of the same messaging system.
Another thing that still resonates today is the importance of sponsored content. In its earliest years, starting in 1903, AT&T’s corporate publicity program focused on getting syndicated content shared in newspapers around the country, preferably without anyone knowing they had created the stories. Later the company used advertising directly, to promote its messages, and indirectly, to pressure newspapers to run publicity handouts as news. By the 1920s James Ellsworth and other executives were committed to identifying AT&T as the source of such information, but it does remind me of the debates we’re having today about native advertising and other forms of sponsored content, and how corporate sponsorship of news should be identified for readers.
Karen Russell, a Jim Kennedy New Media Professor and associate professor of public relations, was recognized by the University of Georgia community in April 2017, as a Meigs Professor, the highest teaching honor at UGA. Following is a profile that was published in the April 17, 2017, Columns newspaper.
Karen Russell begins each new session of her Online Reputation Management course discussing the difference between reputation and character. She is well qualified to lead this conversation considering that she has a power-house online reputation that frequently lands her on lists of top Tweeters. More importantly, her character as a professor makes lasting impacts on her students who stay in touch years after their studies and influences public relations educators and professionals, alike.
“Dr. Russell is an inspiration to her students,” Charles N. Davis, dean of Grady College, said. “As a role model, she has planned and executed a number of innovative classes and programs that extend the classroom and prepare students for exciting careers.”
In addition to teaching students about the power and pitfalls of social media, Russell also teaches public relations campaigns courses, as well as graduate level courses in media history, public relations management and the department’s 4+1 master’s degree program.
Russell not only inspires her students, but she has had a major impact on the field of public relations education, too. She authored one of the first blogs in the industry, “Teaching PR,” and recently wrapped up six years editing “The Journal of PR Research,” a journal for PR theory development. Russell was recognized with the Pathfinder Award by the Institute for Public Relations for outstanding research in 2001 and was one of two educators recognized in 2010 by “PR Week” as a Top 30 Tweeter.
“There’s a whole generation of public relations teachers influenced by Dr. Russell’s work, and each one is, in turn, influencing the future of the field in their teaching,” Tom Kelleher, chair of the Department of Advertising at the University of Florida, said.
Russell’s teaching also influenced Marie Hardin during her doctoral studies at Grady College. Hardin serves as dean of the College of Communications at Penn State.
“Dr. Russell is a deeply caring and engaging teacher who seeks to connect her material to students,” Hardin said. “She focuses on learning and on making knowledge relevant and accessible. She asks students to participate in the learning process, and she holds them accountable for doing so.”
Cory McCollum, a 2011 graduate, echoes those themes of engagement and self-learning.
“There was a feeling that you were walking into a living room more than a classroom,” McCollum said. “Learning from Dr. Russell throughout the entire semester felt like a conversation. It was like she had tricked me into learning. How wonderful is that?”
Russell, who has taught at Grady College since earning her Ph.D. in 1993, says the ever-changing field and classroom conversations keep her motivated.
“It’s not just me teaching but me learning,” Russell explains. “The students always bring things to the class that I didn’t know, whether it’s something small like a new platform or bigger like a new way of looking at things.”
While she hopes to prepare her students professionally, she hopes some of her classroom lessons become life lessons, as well.
“It’s about collaboration and teamwork — that’s how it actually works in the real world,” Russell concludes. “Invariably a student will complain that so-and-so didn’t pull their weight. My standard response is ‘life is a group project.’ There aren’t very many things that they are going to do where they aren’t going to depend on other people doing their part, as well.”
Karen Russell, Jim Kennedy New Media Professor and associate professor of public relations at Grady College, is one of five University of Georgia professors named to the Josiah Meigs Distinguished Teaching Professorship, the university’s highest recognition for excellence in instruction.
“This continues an amazing three-year streak of Grady representation in the university’s highest teaching honor, and is a true testament to the quality of teaching and mentorship all over the college,” said Charles N. Davis, dean of Grady College. “Dr. Russell is a state-of-the-art teacher who works tirelessly to keep pace with the rapid change in social media campaigns and digital marketing—areas on the leading edge of public relations.”
Russell joins five other Grady College faculty who are Meigs Professors: Carolina Acosta-Alzuru, James Hamilton, David Hazinksi, Karen King and Lynne Sallot.
The Meigs Professorship underscores the university’s commitment to excellence in teaching, the value placed on the learning experiences of students and the centrality of instruction to the university’s mission. The award includes a permanent salary increase of $6,000 and a one-year discretionary fund of $1,000.
“This year’s Meigs Professors create experiences both inside and outside of the classroom that challenge students to apply their knowledge to real-world situations,” said Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Pamela Whitten, whose office sponsors the award. “Their commitment to students helps make the University of Georgia one of the nation’s very best public universities.”
The other 2017 Meigs Professors are:
James “Jeb” Byers, professor and associate dean of administrative affairs and research in the Odum School of Ecology.
Markus Crepaz, professor and head of the international affairs department in the School of Public and International Affairs.
John Maerz, professor in the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources,
Annette Poulsen, Augustus H. “Billy” Sterne Professor of Banking and Finance in the Terry College of Business.
Russell is an award-winning media historian who also uses 21st-century tools such as social media to prepare her public relations students for their careers. She developed a blog on teaching that became a resource for public relations students and faculty members around the globe. Russell has been hailed a “Top 40 Tweeter” by “PRWeek,” and her students have been commended by the Public Relations Student Society of America Bateman competition five times, winning a national championship in 2007. She created the popular campus-wide course “Online Reputation Management” and collaborated on the creation of an online continuing education social media certificate course. She is a recipient of top research awards in her field, including the Pathfinder Award from the Institute for Public Relations.
Meigs Professors are nominated by their school or college and chosen by a committee consisting of 12 faculty members, two undergraduate students and one graduate student.
More information about the Josiah Meigs Distinguished Teaching Professorships is online.